The case of Grindr and gay men’s embodiment and body image through new media
Grindr is a geo-social based dating application (app) that allows men who have sex with men (MSM) to connect with each other based on sexual preferences and appearance. The popularization of Grindr over the last decade and its major influence on the MSM community has brought about new queries into its usage, body image, and masculine (dis)embodiment, particularly due to its userbase being heavily appearance-focused. MSM in general are an understudied demographic in the body image literature. MSM have reported greater negative body image than their heterosexual counterparts pertaining to masculine identity, physical appearance, and sexualized self-presentation. To investigate the relationship between Grindr, body image, and MSM’s (dis)embodiment, a qualitative case study design was utilized. Nine MSM who had used Grindr took part in a semi-structured interview. Two data-driven themes were identified from the reflexive thematic analysis process; ‘No fats, no femmes, no Asians’ which explored the issues of social performativity and body image experiences on Grindr; and ‘Grindr doesn’t allow for… people to really express themselves’ which explored the experiences of using cyberspace dating and its effects on body image and self-presentation. Participants unanimously identified that their experiences on Grindr were catalysts for maladaptive behaviors, including excessive exercise, self-objectification, and disembodiment pertaining to their genuine self-identity. Body image was described as both a relationship one has with their body and as the ascription of others’ opinions of one’s body. The disembodiment expressed was related to notions of performative masculinity to gain attention rather than being true to one’s self. Additionally, it was identified that for appearance-focused MSM, there remains issues of understanding what (positive) body image actually is. Participants described the complex relationships between sexual performativity, short-term satisfaction, and the necessity of others’ opinions for understanding their (positive) body image. Ultimately, Grindr was identified to be a negative cyberspace which facilitates curated ideal-self presentation that focuses on self-objectification for the pleasure of other MSM as a way of being perceived as desirable.